How to cure longstanding self-loathing?
September 1, 2013 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Have you managed to come around from loathing yourself (and I do mean loathing), to being ok with yourself? How did you do it? I hate every aspect of my being, from my looks to my personality, and it’s grinding me down.

I’ve had mental health problems in the past (depression), but I don’t consider myself depressed now. I’ve had meds, CBT, and mindfulness-based therapy. I didn’t find the CBT useful at all, but the others helped a lot with the depression while doing nothing to shift my complete self-loathing one inch. The only thing treatment really managed in that area was stopping me expressing my self-loathing through self-harm (I haven’t self-harmed in about five years, but when I did it was always because I needed to get that hatred towards myself out somehow).

Other background: I’m female, in my 30s, single, professional, in a high-pressure job that I love but I know I’m terrible at. I don’t have any traumatic experiences or anything unhappy lurking from my childhood. I’ve loathed myself for as long as I can remember. I’m ugly, I’m fat, and lots of other things that mean I’m just physically put together wrong. I’m weird and awkward, if I actually relax around people I end up saying something inappropriate – you get the gist. I could go on for hours.

I know that there’s not much that can be done in terms of changing that I’m ugly and weird and so on, but I know I don’t have to hate it. I don’t hate other people for being ugly and weird, just myself.

Just as a note: if anyone does suggest therapy, I’m in the UK, and the NHS basically considers me cured as far as mental health is concerned. I’d have to get private therapy, and I have no idea how to do that, what exactly I’m even looking for or even if it’s available in my area.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (39 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
It's unfortunate to hear about your situation with the NHS. In my experience, things like therapy and meds are rather like black magic. You need to get right head doctor, with the right meds, and the right therapy, all at the same time.

If you have the resources to pursue some private therapy arrangements, it could very well be worth the effort and expense. But it takes time (or luck) to hit that magical combination where everything is working together.
posted by colin_l at 7:50 AM on September 1, 2013

Well you got hired so you can't be totally socially irredeemable. Start saying over and over "I'm just fine, I'm Ok, I'm better than Ok I'm good" Just say it over an over.

Also get some regular exercise, some training in makeup and get a wardrobe makeover.
posted by sammyo at 7:56 AM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I’m ugly, I’m fat, and lots of other things that mean I’m just physically put together wrong.

Yeah, and so what? "Ugly and weird" are poor grounds for self-loathing. "I abuse my children," "I steal from my friends," "I run a dog-fighting ring," "My quasi-legal employment involves swindling poor people into bad-idea loans" -- then, then maybe we'd have something where you would be justified in hating on yourself. But this is silly. And you appear to know that, on some level. Hmm.

Do you have time for volunteer work? A pet? Giving love, with no expectation of anything in return, can be a really good way to get to being right with oneself.

Once, a sort of long time ago now, I had a depression that came with a good dose of self-loathing. Much of the ticket out involved taking the focus off myself. Self-loathing is in many ways a selfish, indulgent, and indolent activity. Try to structure your life so you are too busy caring for others, doing pleasant things, doing good, to be able to sink into the luxury of focusing on yourself.
posted by kmennie at 7:59 AM on September 1, 2013 [67 favorites]

Hang out with different people who see the world differently and don't think about appearance in the same way that society conditions us to. In the US there are "fat activists" who seem to be a friendly bunch and would fit the bill for this.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:02 AM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know this is an anonymous post, so you probably won't respond with this (but could if you contact the mods, I realize), but what you need to do before you do anything else is sit down and write out a list of everything that you can think of that is positive about who you are. No negatives. Everything positive.

Start there. Build on that list. Emphasize the things you like about yourself. Do things to expand to create more things you like about yourself--like volunteering or raising money for charity, certainly, but also just doing nice things for people you know, or even just doing nice things for yourself. But the first step, the essential step, is shifting focus from 'here is the list of everything that is wrong' to 'here is the list of everything that is right'.

This is I think the hurdle about CBT that you never got over. Which is fine. That doesn't mean it doesn't work, it means you have to keep working on it. You don't really need a therapist to keep working on it; a therapist might be a nice thing to have at some point, but you can start on it today just fine. Work on it every day, on paper, hang it up somewhere you see it regularly.
posted by Sequence at 8:05 AM on September 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

This is actually a very good book: Breaking the Chains of Low Self-Esteem
posted by svenx at 8:07 AM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, I have not mastered this by any means, but -- providing you're not actively depressed* -- most of my 'success' has come from sheer willpower. I've heard that willpower is like a muscle, which is to say that every time you use it, it gets a little stronger. So I've had to literally refuse to engage the mean thoughts when they pop into my head, tell someone and get a hug if I'm struggling with them, and suck every bit of goodness out of the moments when I feel cute and competent. The 'sucking every bit of goodness' leads to part of your brain trying to insist you're some stupid Pollyanna, tell that to fuck off, too. Kurt Cobain has a line that reminds me of the Pollyanna bit: I think I'm dumb, or maybe just happy.

*depression can cause things like 'intrusive thoughts' which make it much, much harder to fight.
posted by MeiraV at 8:13 AM on September 1, 2013

You said that you don't like how you look. A lot of us don't like how we look, but there are some things we can do about it and other things that we cannot. It's hard to tell what the actual problems are when you are depressed, but have you thought about taking up a sport/activity that would increase your activity a little bit?

This doesn't have to be training for a marathon or even jogging for an hour a day. It could be as simple as taking a walk with a friend for half an hour. If you're looking for friends you could go to

I hope this helps
posted by nidora at 8:16 AM on September 1, 2013

1. Almost all Western women have negative views of their bodies. And although that recent Dove ad has problems, it does get at an underlying truth that we do not look at our own bodies objectively*. I am 100% certain that you judge yourself more harshly than you would judge your exact doppelganger.

2. The fact that you don't consider yourself depressed now is interesting to me. I'm not sure how anyone could loathe themselves without experiencing depression. I'm not a mental health professional or anything, but that seems unlikely to me.

3. When you see another woman that has some sort of conventionally unappealing features, or who's socially awkward or whatever, do you loathe her? You probably don't. That has been one of the most helpful things for me to do when I'm starting to think too much about some aspect of myself I don't like - I imagine meeting another person with the same thing and I think of how I would react to or think about them. It's pretty much never "with loathing."

*this applies to both genders, but interestingly straight men tend to have a higher assessment of their attractiveness than observers do
posted by kavasa at 8:18 AM on September 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Helping other people will make you feel good about yourself.
posted by spitbull at 8:32 AM on September 1, 2013

When I find myself spiraling down like that, I start mentally saying "I forgive myself" a lot. "I forgive myself for that awkward comment, I forgive myself for overeating because I feel emotional or unloved or unnourished," etc.. "I forgive myself for not accepting my own beauty." I started doing this when I realized that I have a lot of compassion for other people, why shouldn't I have compassion for myself.

It's a long process but the self loathing does ease up with age once you find the willingness to just accept.
posted by gt2 at 8:42 AM on September 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

I feel for you - I think everyone struggles with self-acceptance, some more than others.

I think it's worth aggressively pursuing your options as far as therapy and meds go. Hopefully some of the Brits here will be able to share some insight on how to go about finding therapy in your area.

In the meantime here are some things that might be worth a try:

1) Do something you are good at, regularly. Sketch, write, sing.

2) Do something good for someone else.

3) Read some fat acceptance blogs - see if they resound with you. They really helped me work on being more accepting of my body as it is. My body gets me up and down stairs, it lets me dance and feel and taste and laugh and cry. It does not have to be thin and blonde to be completely amazing, and when I think about this I realize I am lucky to have it, and I want to be my body's ally and not its scowling drill sergeant.

4) I don't believe in the supernatural, but it sometimes helps to personify the "I'm fat and ugly and stupid and I suck in every way" voice as an evil little imp. It's a fucking liar and it only wants to bring you down. You know those fantasy tales where the hero goes through a dark forest or valley and there are voices telling her to give up, or to go the wrong direction, that her friends have all perished or deserted her? That's what you're dealing with here. It's a fucking liar. Kick it in the teeth and keep going.

5) Exercise. I hate exercise myself, but it's proven to help with moods. There's a great mefi community on healthmonth where you will get lots of encouragement.

6) Do you have friends? People who love you the way you are, and show you that they do? If not, start looking for your tribe. Somewhere out there are people who think the quirky things you say when you get relaxed are funny and insightful and cool. Start looking for them, patiently but firmly.

7) Have people said good things about you in the past? Do you have awards, thank you notes, letters of recommendation, touching emails? Put them all in one place and read them when you start to believe the lying imp.

8) Make a list of the awesome things you want to do and start thinking about how you can work towards one of them. Build a birdhouse, volunteer at an animal shelter, learn Spanish, get a tattoo, write a poem, deadlift 100 pounds, bake a cake, teach someone to read - whatever lights your fire. Start with the smallest, most achievable thing.

8a) Actually you've probably already done some pretty awesome things. Make a list. Acknowledge it.

I googled and found a tumblr on self-acceptance here. Might be worth a look.

Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 8:47 AM on September 1, 2013 [8 favorites]

when I start going down this road I remind myself how short my time here on earth is, and how beating myself up about fatness and all that is a terrible waste of precious time. When I'm on my deathbed I'm going to be glad of the time I spent having adventures and relationships, not of the time I spent hating my healthy body.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:51 AM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think the universe rewards action. Something are not going to be within your control, but some are. Do your clothes fit? Are your hair, teeth, nails all as good as they could be? Does your bra fit? Working on these fairly minor, outward appearance things can help with self-worth, and the acts of taking care of yourself can also help. I do believe in listing the positives and acknowledging bad moods, negative emotions, but those don't have to control your actions. If you love your job, you're probably more effective than you think. Do you have a career mentor? Getting outside opinions (hairstylist, mentor, colleague) can give you another POV to offset your own negative opinion.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:51 AM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah - your job. Are you truly bad at it or perhaps being hard on yourself? It's hard to tell.

Either way there are things you can do to improve your situation - that might be another question.
posted by bunderful at 8:58 AM on September 1, 2013

I don't know if this will be helpful to you, but the people I know who hate themselves are, without exception, perfectly lovely. I'm thinking of two women in particular right now, who are both beautiful and charming and unbelievably accomplished, and who both believe themselves to be fat and ugly and incompetent. It's heart-breaking to witness.

I'm not a professional and don't know what the answer is, but maybe if you can learn to shut off the voices in your head for at least a little while each day, and try to accept that the way you're viewed by others is just as correct - or even more correct - than the way you view yourself, it would start to give you some relief.

I promise there is nothing wrong with you.
posted by something something at 9:06 AM on September 1, 2013

I don’t hate other people for being ugly and weird, just myself.

I would start here, and really analyze the way you feel about this. It doesn't actually make a lot of sense.

I have a friend who struggles with her weight, and she says the most horrible things about her body when she is fat, yet she claims she doesn't feel that way about other fat people. As a fat person, it makes no sense to me how her "muffin top" can be disgusting to her yet mine is not. They look and feel much the same... it's not like I somehow got a better-looking fat roll or something. If she thinks fat is gross, how can she truthfully say that my fat is not gross? There is some sort of disconnect there. Either the fat is not the real thing she hates about herself, or she is in some sort of denial about feeling judgmental about other fat people.

Since I don't know what you look like, for purposes of answering the question I will take you at your word that you are fat, ugly and weird-looking. Why do you think other ugly people are ok but you are not?

I say this because if you truly have compassion and positive feelings towards others who have qualities you loathe in yourself, it shouldn't be too difficult to turn some of that compassion around on yourself. If it is good to be forgiving of the physical flaws and normal character weaknesses of other human beings, then it is good to be forgiving of your own because you are made of the same stuff as everyone else and you are just as worthy as everyone else.

I found the chapters on Compassion and Judgment in the book Self-Esteem to be very helpful in learning to be ok with myself and others as flawed beings. I think in order for this to be helpful to you, however, you need to really make an effort to come to terms with the fact that it makes no logical sense to hold yourself to a higher standard than you hold other people.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:17 AM on September 1, 2013 [7 favorites]

There's an old story about a tormented man and a Zen master. The man is really confused and is actually running after the master to kill him. At some point he drops it and just asks the Zen master to help him. He's all sweaty and shaking and probably feels terrible about trying to kill the master. At this point the master asks him something like, "Okay, before you start thinking about good and bad, who are you really?"

In another story the emperor asks the Zen master, "Who are you?" And he just replies, "I don't know."

Dunno if you're interested in this kind of thing, but for me this kind of questioning is really valuable. It's helped me through a lot of stuff. I'm not completely past self-loathing, but I see it in a different way. It's not really about me -- because I'm not really identical with my body, my habits, even my personality or my language. In Zen stories they say things like "I've looked all over for myself, but I can't find it."

From what you wrote it seems evident that you have access to a lot of clarity, compassion, intelligence, and maturity. Maybe you can find a way to apply these qualities to the issue at hand on a regular basis. If you're anything like me you have sort of a daily appointment to think about yourself in a judging way -- and a way that's actually not very realistic. So maybe try spending some time seeing your life with clarity and kindness.

Here is a video of Pema Chodron speaking about "maitri," which is a term from her Buddhist tradition that she translates as "unconditional friendship with oneself." I think a crucial point is that this is not something that we just have, it's something to practice, almost like practicing an instrument. You do it as a practice every day and you get better at it. Perhaps you're not interested in the traditional forms of Tibetan Buddhism, but this kind of approach might be inspiring.
posted by mbrock at 9:38 AM on September 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Do you have a family member or close friend who really loves you for you? When I feel down about my looks/intelligence/personality, I think about my grandparents who thought I was beautiful/smart/funny. I think about what they would be thinking if they were alive and I told them how I felt about myself. They would be sad and shocked that I hated so much about myself. I try to focus on seeing myself through their eyes and it does help me a bit when I'm feeling especially unhappy about myself.
posted by parakeetdog at 9:39 AM on September 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm focusing on appearance right now because that seems to be the main topic, and it's the one where I've made the mpst progress myself.

I can certainly relate to the self-loathing from earliest memory. But, although they didn't seem traumatic at the time, I can link it in retropsect to patterns in family behavior that certainly didn't help. The women in my family tended to disparage their own looks; my mother, especially, would go on for what seemed like hours about how much harder she had to work to simply be presentable than any other woman she knew. And, of course, I looked like these women. And in my immediate family, compliments about anything, either appearance or accomplishment, were either nonexistent or backhanded.

I have empirical knowledge that I'm not physically put together right, and not at my target weight. My best friends tell me I'm weird, but I'm weird enough that I like hearing it.

Here are a couple of things that helped me feel good about my appearance:

Learning that almost every other woman I know feels inadequate in this area. If sales of beauty products and cosmetic procedures are anything to go by, almost every other woman in the West feels the same way. What really blew my mind was hearing other women say that features I always thought made me look less human were ones they wish they had (e.g., stick-straight hair).

Finding a good hairstylist. This is something I only managed to do once in my life. When she told me she was getting married and moving to the other side of the country, up to the last minute I hoped they'd break up. I haven't had the energy to look for another one at her level, but at least I can sort of describe what she did when I go to the local salon.

Drag queens. Especially RuPaul's Drag Race. No, you probably wouldn't want to go to the office every day looking like Lady Bunny. But they start out with a body and face that isn't the one your average girl wakes up inside, and turn it into something magnificent. I think one reason women love drag queens is that they shove out into the spotlight how much of beauty and femininity is performance. There are two things RPDR shows with all its backstage bits, especially in the early seasons: First, that the performance is FUN, and that movement and speech can be as important as appearance. Second, there's a lot of talk about the queens' early experiences, and you'll hear a lot of, "It was the first time I felt beautiful," or "It was the first time I felt powerful." I would so love to have Latrice Royale as my fairy godmother. Plus-plus size, imperfect teeth, ex-convict, and I'd let her make me over in a cold minute.

The French concept of jolie laide. Even if there's some way of empirically determining that I'm ugly, I can still be pretty damn fabulous.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:40 AM on September 1, 2013 [13 favorites]

I used to feel a great deal of self-loathing as well. I never recognized it as such, because I had felt that way about myself for most of my life. Things that have helped me:

1) Reading this book. It helped me recognized that a lot of my thoughts about myself were irrational, or at the very least, not productive. I am not certain how exactly it would compare with CBT, which you said was unhelpful, but I felt like reading it was a key to excavating my mean and hindering views about myself and getting myself on the road to replacing them with new views.

2) In that same vein, I started to catch myself whenever I was thinking mean and unproductive thoughts about myself. I would be thinking, "I can't believe I am so awkward. Everyone must think I'm weird." or "I am fat and ugly and it's never going to be any better." And then I thought, "would I say things like this about my best friend?" And I realized that these thoughts were not only mean, but they weren't entirely true as well.

It took a long time, and it is still a process, but the thing that helped me most to re-frame my thoughts was to realize that we are all human beings stuck on this planet and there is nothing we can do that can make us inherently better or worse than others. Our thoughts and deeds might give us guilt or make us feel inferior, or make us feel accomplished or happy, but no matter what, we still have the same intrinsic worth as any other person on this planet. Whenever I feel self-doubt start to creep back in, I remind myself of this.

3.) I took a long look at my values and interests and started living my life in a way that would line up with those things. I had stopped doing a lot of activities I had enjoyed in younger years because of self-consciousness and fear of what others would think of me. I had not done some things that I wanted to because of fear of failure or fear of the unknown. I had been presenting myself a certain way because it was more socially acceptable, when internally, I wanted to express myself differently. I had also been letting people in my life talk down to me, when I didn't feel it was acceptable. I started doing the things I wanted and valued and let go of people (the best I could) who unleashed negative energy in my life. These changes didn't come over night and it's still a process, but the more of these changes I have made, the less I have instances of mean thoughts about myself.

4.) Getting enough sleep, eating better foods. I just have a greater sense of well-being when I'm making the right food choices and having a fairly regular sleep schedule. Too little sleep or eating junk foods and my brain seems to short-circuit with general neuroticness.

5.) Giving myself permission to relax. I think the last remnant of self-loathing I have is getting on myself for not doing enough with my life, when in reality, most days I am usually accomplishing a lot. It has taken a while to realize I need some type of relaxation built into every day and to accept that even if I don't get everything done that I wanted to in a day, there is always the next.

I am no expert, but these are things that have helped me to accept myself more. I first read A Guide To Rational Living last October and a little less than a year later, I'd say that with the actions I took above, my life has greatly improved. I can't say I'm all warm and fuzzy with happiness about myself (as that goes a little against my rational and skeptical nature), but it's a rare day now when I look in the mirror at the person starting back at me and think "god, what's wrong with your face?/you're so fat/I hate you" etc. Most days I can look in the mirror, and just think, "welp, for better or worse, imperfections and all, there is me. Might as well make the most of it."
posted by sevenofspades at 9:45 AM on September 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

I hear you loud and clear OP. You don't have to love yourself straight off the bat, you can start small with just not bullying yourself. That's how I think of it, as bullying behaviour. Behaving towards yourself how you would never, in your wildest dreams, treat even your most disliked acquaintances. You don't have to change anything about yourself before you stop bullying yourself and you don't have to cherish yourself or put yourself on a pedestal. It's enough to say "you know what, fuck off" to that voice on occasion. Start listening for it a little more actively, as opposed to letting it mouth off in that routine, thoughtless manner it has. Occasionally tell it "you know, that's not quite fair, so shut the hell up". Have your own back sometimes against that bitch.

Get a little totem, a lego dudette or whatever, keep it in your pocket and pretend it's your own personal mefite who will help you to challenge the voice. It's not used to that at all, it gets kinda off balance. When it says you're ugly the mini-mefite can, with perfect askme tough-love-rationality say "And? Is beauty for it's own sake something to aspire to? Who gives a shit?" and you can just stand behind it at first and go "Yeah, who gives a shit". And after a while it's not as mouthy or as sure of itself. You don't have to believe you are the best, most beautiful snowflake in the universe, just try and remember that you're no worse than most other people and even doing a lot better than some.

I have to second as well as said above, keeping a brag-book is a great thing to do. A document, maybe a scrapbook if you are into that detailing small proofs of your untotal suckage. A lot of the stuff in mine is from work and perhaps small fries, things like a mail that says "thanks for getting that back to me so fast", but one or two are a little deeper, they say I am good at what I do and I helped someone else out and I should keep up the good work. I read that one a lot sometimes.
posted by Iteki at 9:51 AM on September 1, 2013 [9 favorites]

OK, one more quick comment and then I'll leave the thread alone.

I don’t hate other people for being ugly and weird, just myself.

This sounds so familiar. I internalized so much of my mother's low self-esteem without even knowing it. Do either of your parents have self-esteem issues that could have influenced your developing personality?

Just as a note: if anyone does suggest therapy, I’m in the UK, and the NHS basically considers me cured as far as mental health is concerned. I’d have to get private therapy, and I have no idea how to do that, what exactly I’m even looking for or even if it’s available in my area.

Your GP is probably used to only doing referrals for therapy within the NHS, but might he or she be able to steer you towards information on private therapy? Or steer you towards someone who could steer you towards it?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:54 AM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

My goofy-ass mutt doesn't care how much of a foul-mouthed bastard I am. Also, walks.
posted by notsnot at 9:59 AM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Two irrefutable facts:

1) You did not ask to be here
2) You are doing the best you can at this time with what you have.

Conclusion: There is literally nothing to judge about yourself. You only judge yourself because in some way you think it will improve your situation. In reality, it just makes you weaker. You would not judge a friend this way, which demonstrates your cognitive distortion. Never talk to yourself with any less of a generous tone than you would with a friend. There is more to it than that, but this would be a huge start.

good luck. life is quite complex, we are all fighting a hard battle.
posted by jcworth at 10:36 AM on September 1, 2013 [8 favorites]

The trick of depression is that it is a lie, the depression wants to exist, so the thought patterns are developed to reinforce it.

Someone once helped me by saying to "flag that thought" every time I went into loathing mode. Once I realized the bad thoughts were all lies the depression was using to build a wall around itself, I was able to dissasociate from the depression and look at it objectively from the outside, as opposed to looking through the filter of the depression.

The depression is warping your thoughts, it wants to exist, it's using your brain processes like a parasite to create an environment where it can thrive.

Flag the bad thoughts, they aren't true. Starve the depression of it's fuel.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:40 AM on September 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

First of all, you do sound depressed to me. If you want to try and challenge the NHS's opinion of your condition, try telling your GP "I am having intrusive, unwelcome, negative thoughts about myself which are affecting my daily activities such as work, sleep, and my social life." However, I understand if you don't want to do that, particularly if you found CBT unhelpful in the past.

Others have spoken to the appearance piece quite eloquently, and I'll agree with everything they said. But let me go deeper. Let's say you're right about your appearance; well, not everyone can be a great beauty. Maybe you're right about your social awkwardness, but not everyone can be the twinkling charismatic host. Maybe you're even right about your job, although they hired you, so they must see something you don't; not everyone can be a shattering career success. Not everyone can be smart or beautiful or strong. But everyone can be kind; that's a choice you can make.

Being kind makes you a good person, by definition. Some of the world's greatest people are kind of funny looking. If you truly can't shake your cognitive distortions about your appearance and your social skills and your job performance, then just focus on being as kind a person as you can be (nb this is fundamentally different from being a doormat, you also have to be kind to yourself). Even as skilled a liar as depression can sometimes crumble in the face of the continual impulse to kindness. And if it doesn't? Then, wow, you really do have proof that you have trans-rational thinking going on, because nobody's judging the Dalai Lama for not looking like a swimsuit model.
posted by KathrynT at 10:45 AM on September 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

Someone once helped me by saying to "flag that thought" every time I went into loathing mode. Once I realized the bad thoughts were all lies the depression was using to build a wall around itself, I was able to dissasociate from the depression and look at it objectively from the outside, as opposed to looking through the filter of the depression.

Was coming in here to suggest that. It works, slowly, but it works.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:02 AM on September 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

I just posted these yesterday on another AskMe thread:

The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion
: “Buck up.” “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” “Don’t ruin everything.” When you are anxious, sad, angry, or lonely, do you hear this self-critical voice? What would happen if, instead of fighting difficult emotions, we accepted them? Over his decades of experience as a therapist and mindfulness meditation practitioner, Dr. Christopher Germer has learned a paradoxical lesson: We all want to avoid pain, but letting it in--and responding compassionately to our own imperfections, without judgment or self-blame--are essential steps on the path to healing. This wise and eloquent book illuminates the power of self-compassion and offers creative, scientifically grounded strategies for putting it into action. You’ll master practical techniques for living more fully in the present moment -- especially when hard-to-bear emotions arise -- and for being kind to yourself when you need it the most.

Radical Acceptance: Radical acceptance enables us to see more clearly and to learn how to hold our experiences with compassion. As Carl Rogers once said: "The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change." Brach has put together a rich compendium of spiritual practices that can serve as a counterbalance to established feelings of neglect, judging ourselves and others harshly, and spurning the bounties of the present moment.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:22 AM on September 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

What worked for me was what other people have said here - be your own best friend. I used to say horrible things to myself, that I was fat and ugly and useless and on and on. One day I just suddenly stopped mid-tirade and thought "You would never speak to anyone else the way you speak to yourself." I have friends who are overweight - I tell them that they're beautiful how they are, or I notice their great dress sense or sense of humour. I have friends who are a little unconventional looking - I notice their beautiful eyes or their ability to stay calm in a crisis. I am unendingly supportive and compassionate towards others, so I decided to start doing it for myself. I try not to say anything to myself that I wouldn't say to another person, and it has really helped. With practice I have turned my inner critic into my inner cheerleader (mostly) and it has improved my self-esteem a lot.

I also recommend the book The Gift of Imperfection, about embracing the You that you are, and not the You that you think you should be.

Finally, if a return visit to your GP doesn't result in a therapy referral, the best place to find an accredited private therapist is through the BACP website. Personally I think CBT is useful for altering behaviour, but I think a person-centred and/or psychodynamic approach might be more helpful to you in terms of learning to accept yourself. Good luck.
posted by billiebee at 11:58 AM on September 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

I honestly just kind of got used to it. I'm in my mid-40s, homely, fat, socially awkward, dumb, and on and on. I basically try to ignore it day to day as best I can. My coworkers like me, my husband loves me, everyone has their flaws. I try not to think about it too much. I'm always going to be funny looking and hate most everything about myself, but I'm healthy and I have a good heart.
posted by Occula at 1:15 PM on September 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Honestly, you sound like you've got your act together. A professional woman keeping her head above water in a tough job...not giving in to impulses for self-harm (for *years* at a stretch)...striving so hard to better herself that the NHS has declared her *cured* but who is still working to improve...?! That's impressive. It takes a lot of character to accomplish those things -- dedication, humility, takes mental toughness. Maybe self-loathing is your way of manipulating yourself into working harder and longer? Maybe it's a way of keeping you hungry, keeping your internal fire burning?

As an my own life, there reached a point where it felt like everyone and everything I came into contact with seemed indifferent to my needs at best, hostile to them at worst, and always out to exploit me for everything possible. I was basically broke and friendless, and it felt like the job of shitting all over me was pretty much covered. So I figured I no longer needed to remind myself of my own powerlessness, insignificance, and vulnerability -- I no longer needed to participate in all the self-hate stuff -- because the entire world apparently was on top of that. Not that the world was out to get me or anybody in particular, just that it was dumping enough shit on me already that I honestly felt like I didn't need to contribute to the load.

Sometimes I feel self-sabotage or self-hate sneaking back into my life, and that's when I remind myself of the delegation of responsibilities -- it's everyone and everything *else's* job to shit on me, it's my job to brush that shit off. My job is hard enough; I'm not going to be able to take on theirs, too. I'm not going to be able to take care of everything I need to take care of (food, shelter, pleasure, grappling with mortality, whatever) and *also* keep on top of carefully logging my faults and throwing appropriate obstacles in my path. If there needs to be a fault-log and my path could use some extra obstacles, I'm going to have to trust the world to do that for me because I am freaking *swamped.*

It sounds like you think you are a poor judge of yourself. That's a convenient thing to be terrible at, because other people are perfectly willing and able to pick up the slack of judging you. So maybe do like I did and quit the job. Let them do it. You can fill your time by concentrating on the infinite other tasks that you need/want to accomplish. I know that's easier said than done, but if you find yourself trying to stand in judgement of yourself STOP and remind yourself that you're *terrible* at this particular thing and others can do it perfectly adequately. If you were using self-loathing to stoke the fires of your ambition, then you might need to find another tool to stoke those fires. Here are some suggestions -- a sense of responsibility, pride in a job well done, love of the game, arrogance bordering on hubris...but use whatever works! And don't worry about the lack of self-judgement leading you too far off-track; if you're truly out of line, the world will be quick to set you straight -- and if you're unconvinced of *that,* just read Kafka.
posted by rue72 at 2:56 PM on September 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

One of the mindfulness things my therapist worked with me on was accepting those thoughts (about being ugly, socially awkward, inadvertently offensive to loved ones) and just letting them pass - leaves on the stream, cars on the highway. They just come and go and I have no control over those thoughts, only my reaction. I could dwell on them, turn them over and over and fondle them into the night and give every scrap of emotional energy and attention to them.

Or I could just let them pass. I never managed to sincerely thank my brain for them, but I could do a briskly insincere "yes, thank you, I was very awkward" and then let it go.

Practicality was my key to letting go. What I was doing was impractical, useless, unhelpful, unproductive. Not only was I laying away at night with those thoughts (or others) and therefore not sleeping, I was raising my very real blood pressure, tightening my very real muscles, impacting my very real adrenal system, all in order to give power and attention to thoughts that were not even helping.

So every time I looked in the mirror and said something bad in my head, I walked away. It means that I am in the habit of leaving the house without having looked in the mirror now, but it also means I spend far less time berating myself about my appearance. And when I do, it is simply a thought - I have a pouchy belly because a baby was in there and I'm overweight, my thighs are the way they are because I lost a lot of weight, my face is what it is, my scars are what they are. No thought pattern can change what they look like, all it can change is my mood.

So every time at a gathering I had a monologue in my head about what was going on that harped on my failings, I stopped listening to that and started listening to the people talking. Afterwards, instead of paying attention to the monologue, I would try and remember what people were saying, see if I could work out ways to help, or things they would like.

So every time I said something stupid and offensive, I would only swell enough to work out what the fuck was going on in my head when I said it (like the time I was so steeping in Fat Acceptance stuff that I stopped being able to appreciate just normal lovely fat lady outfits, and called something 'unflattering' because it wasn't fabulous enough and offended a whole swathe of friends and new people because it was also a bridesmaid's dress AND the person's girlfriend thought she looked lovely AND she totally looked lovely!) and then work out a way to apologise. And when I've worked it out, any recurrence of the cringe-inducing memory is blocked with my laser shield of HA I WILL APOLOGISE IN THE MORNING! Or whatever the strategy is.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:00 PM on September 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

I, too, wish I was someone else. I have an image of the sort of personality I want, and from time to time I've met people with aspects of this personality personality. I've even managed to fake it convincingly for a while. But it never felt good, and the "real" me kept squeaking out. Finally I had to be brave enough to be myself, even if it wasn't what I really wanted to be.

What feels good is to honor my heart's person. Not my mind's fear, or who I think I should be etc. But it does feel good when I answer and act according to my heart centre. My raw and open, loving and vulnerable heart.

So all I could suggest is to meditate on your heart centre (also called "meditating on your heart chakra"), and to respond to the world from that place. Find honor and beauty in being who you are. This is your karma, and you will find your life open up in meaningful ways if you have the courage to be who you are. At the very least, you won't be wasting energy trying to fight yourself. You can even say, "I wish I didn't feel this way, but ...." when answering people, which acknowledges the disconnect between who you wish you were and how you truly feel. But you will find yourself evolving into more of who you want once you have the bravery to be what you are right now. Part of knowing yourself means knowing your flaws and limitations. If you are socially awkward, this is what it is. Other so-called "perfect" people have their own flaws, trust me.

That's as much as I can say to you right now. Stop fighting who you are. See it as dignified and courageous to be who you are. No one is perfect, and everyone has a light and a dark side. Embrace your shadow. She's a good person, too.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:31 PM on September 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

I've been dealing with self-loathing for a long, long time, and while I haven't been able to conquer it as such, I have been able to come to a detente of sorts.

Back in university, I had an English prof who was Very Accomplished. Rhodes Scholar, founder of the university, winner of the Newdigate Prize -- the whole shebang. Towering intellectual force. Successful career, successful marriage, successful kids... A man like that should have no disappointments in life.

He was a brutal prof. He could take apart students, and leave them applauding for the sheer brilliance of the take-down. He was an unhappy person, and had -- as I could recognize from my own experience -- a lot of self-loathing to deal with.

I forget the context, or even the first part of the sentence, but in one seminar, he said "[blah blah blah]... or life wouldn't be as lonely as it is."

I was thunderstruck. Here was this man, this legend, whose fundamental complaint about life was that it was lonely. And was he actually lonely, in a literal sense? No, of course not. He was existentially lonely, and there was no cure for that.

It was that recognition that made me more or less come to terms with my own self-loathing. What is described as self-loathing is really just acute awareness. It is being too aware that is the problem.

Is there a solution for that? Probably not. There are temporary escapes, sure. But the accurate diagnosis of being acutely aware of the world counts for a lot.

Good luck. Acute awareness is a blessing and a curse, but a curse in the most personal of ways. Such has been my experience, at least.
posted by Capt. Renault at 9:25 PM on September 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

Firstly, kmennie's answer is wonderful. Listen to him/her!

You've got all these wonderful, thoughtful answers and my answer is so shallow by comparison. But it helped me and maybe it will help you with the appearance-related aspect of your problem. I have many years of weight-related self-loathing and attendant drama behind me. But what truly helped me was taking a good long look at my body and trying to figure out what kind of clothes worked for me (I asked a few Ask MeFi questions about this too; you are not looking for clothes-related advice at the moment so I have not linked to them, but they are in my profile). I love finding new styles to try out and feel generally more confident in my body. It's about being comfortable and confident in the space you occupy. A lot of us fat girls don't really know what that feels like. I don't think it's a coincidence that I am less afraid to stand up for myself and more generally bolshy than I used to be when I was Wallflower Ziggy.

There are many, many resources to get you started on plus-sized fashion, but try the Fatshionista Flickr or Livejournal and the blogs of Gabi Gregg (Gabifresh) and Nicolette Mason for a start.
posted by Ziggy500 at 1:58 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

My own experience is that the negative thoughts and feelings in my head love getting into arguments about my self-worth, and if I'm in a bad place I'll always lose those arguments. Trying to get myself to say "hey, I'm not such a bad person" whenever those negative thoughts tell me I'm an idiot is an exercise in futility; I just feel more stupid, mouthing affirmations to myself. I think affirmations work for a lot of people, but for me they always just fell flat in the face of my cynical self-negation.

Instead, I had to skip over that and reframe the problem as a moral imperative: the point of life is to enjoy it, and the only way I'm going to enjoy it is if I'm kind to myself. I made this my mantra: "I must be kind to myself." Whenever the self-negating thoughts would start in ("I'm such a fat ass," "I'm so stupid," etc) I would sternly say to myself: "No. I'm not being kind. I must be kind to myself." Over time, the voice that said "I must be kind to myself" gradually overpowered the self-negation. In a given situation, that usually means being fair: I am not the most intelligent person in the world, but I'm not required to be, and I do all right with what I was given. I don't have to be stunningly good-looking; I take care of myself, and that's enough. I deserve to be happy and enjoy life as much as any other human being. I must not hold myself to standards to which I wouldn't hold others.

That's the mantra that worked for me, anyway. In a larger sense, as others have said here, any real solution will involve finding a way to stop the habitual self-negation, and to do that you have to begin to replace it with something else.
posted by koeselitz at 7:52 AM on September 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Commenters above have made some great suggestions, including Brene Brown's work (go watch her TED talks if you haven't yet!), but I hear you -- it's possible to be therapeutically "cured" and still have that stubborn pre-verbal core of self-loathing. In my personal experience of depression, mental illness and recovery, dismantling symptoms was one kind of work, but building up a new, positive, post-depressive self has been another kind entirely. Some therapies (CBT, psychodynamic) are good at the dismantling but not so good at the building up. Any form of psychotherapy that emphasizes human potential or spiritual/creative growth -- psychosynthesis, transpersonal, humanistic/person-centered, arts therapy -- may offer you the next steps.

I've found imagery and visualization work to be really powerful for shifting the stuff that won't yield to reason and argument. For instance, you might take yourself deeply into a visualization where you are in the presence of a figure who sees you through completely loving and accepting eyes, and then try looking at yourself through that person's eyes and experiencing what that's like. If you're a Christian you may find Ignatian prayer rewarding for this; if not, compassion meditations and inner child work (Thich Nhat Hanh, Lucia Cappachione) are also very good. Debbie Ford's book Dark Side of the Light Chasers has some good visualizations along these lines, and also has some well-crafted exercises for meeting and reconciling with those parts of yourself you hate. Combined with a supportive therapist or even on its own, this work can be life-changing.

At the very least, these exercises provide relief through displacement -- any reflective practice that puts you in contact with your highest and best self will naturally leave less time and mental space for ruminating on the parts of yourself you hate. At best, they provide the opportunity to experience yourself as the you who is already perfect, complete and what you were meant to be.
posted by stuck on an island at 7:52 AM on September 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Offhand, one fat activist I can think of is Virgie Tovar - blog & youtube. I think in general it can take a while reading and watching stuff like this before you feel OK with it and it starts to permeate your brain and emotions.
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:18 PM on September 6, 2013

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